1 a: a declaration that one will do or refrain from doing something specified
2: reason to expect something (little promise of relief); especially: ground for expectation of success, improvement, or excellence (shows considerable promise)
Sometimes a word just begs to be a blog post. The word promise kept appearing and reappearing last night. Promises from a wizard to a dragon, from a son to his mother, from one friend to another, from a snake to an alligator, from a grandmother to herself, from a vendor to a client, from God to me. Some of these promises were kept, some broken. As I fell into an exhausted sleep, I tried to ponder the significance of the word promise figuring so prominently in a few short hours. I'm not sure I reached any conclusions worth sharing (or any conclusions, given that I fell asleep very quickly thanks to the previous night's insomnia), but I do think it's worth considering the meaning of the word promise.
The first definition of promise makes it clear that a promise is stated aloud - verbally or in writing. Yet the second definition of promise is merely that of an expectation. And expectations are far trickier than declared intentions. I can reasonably or unreasonably expect something, whether I've told anyone about it or not. A friend asked me the other night if I would be OK with A deciding to stop dancing. I didn't hesitate to reply, "Sure. The life of a professional dancer isn't an easy one. I'll gladly support her if she decides to go a different direction." While all of that is true, I played back that conversation to myself yesterday and had to admit that my reaction would be partly based on when she decides to give up dancing. I've always hoped my girls would have a life preserver in middle school - an activity that captures their hearts and minds enough to keep them anchored to it through the rocky waters of the tween and early teen years. So if A decided to drop dance right now, I probably would hesitate. Not because I expect her to dance forever, but because she does show such promise as a dancer. She does seem so alive on the stage. She does seem to both feel joy while dancing and elicit joy in others by sharing her love of dance. I'm not keen to cut the rope on that promise.
Is a promise more powerful when issued to someone else or to ourselves? Because when you talk about unspoken expectations, I have quite a few for myself that are probably entirely unreasonable, perhaps even unattainable. If I break a promise to myself, is that as bad as breaking a promise to someone else?
I ponder the breaking of promises as I work with multiple vendors to get our kitchen renovated. Yesterday, the crew arrived to install our counter tops. They started with the desk area, where I now sit typing this post. Then they moved on to the largest section of the kitchen - the counter top that will stretch from one door to the other and will turn a ninety degree angle behind the stove. We were eating a take-out dinner upstairs in order to stay out of their way as they worked in our kitchen, so I was excited to anticipate seeing the color we'd picked out and how it looked with the cabinets and wall color. When J headed down to dispose of our dinner remnants, I asked him to see whether they'd started on the sink area. He came up to report that they had and said I should look at the sink since there was a rough spot. Excited to see it all come together, I hurried down the stairs. The color was great. I love the honed granite, which lacks the shine of most granite counter tops. It looked great with the cabinets - anchoring the ephemeral white without weighing it down. And then I looked at the sink. Yes, there was a rough spot. Two, in fact. I looked closer. The rough spots were the result of a break. They had tried to patch it up, but it was clear that the stone had been split clean through.
J talked with the crew and they agreed to return Monday with an unbroken stretch of counter top. But J pointed out to me later that they had planned to just install the damaged piece without calling it to our attention. He told me that I'll need to be very careful and diligent in examining their work on Monday. For a person as conflict averse as myself, that's a bit daunting. And it's good that J verbalized the need for me to be vigilant because I hope for the best in people. Until my trust is broken, I have faith that people will fulfill their promises.
How has that worked out for me? Both well and not so well. There are certainly scars from promises broken - broken by others and broken by me. I've left my share of scars on the hearts of those who care about me. I hope that I continue to see the promise in others - the promise in my daughters that they will one day be the women God envisioned when he created them, the promise that they will use their gifts to bless others. And I hope I can see "ground for expectation of improvement" in myself.